For most, the preseason marks the start of the new season. On Thursday night, the Arizona Cardinals began their march to the playoffs with their preseason opener, against the Los Angeles Chargers. The first preseason game typically follows the same script, regardless of which teams are playing. If the presumptive starters play, it is one or two series at most, while the defenses keep things fairly basic. The bulk of the game consists of players fighting for roster spots and depth chart positioning. While it’s okay to get excited, the preseason doesn’t mean much in the long run. Today however we take a moment to share some of our overreactions from the preseason opening victory.
It’s safe to say the decision to draft Kyler Murray with the first overall selection was met with confused looks. Murray’s talent in college was unquestioned. However, it meant the Cardinals would select a quarterback in the first round in back to back years. With the selection of Murray, the Josh Rosen era effectively ended. The next day Arizona sent Rosen to Miami. OTAs and training camp has started the hype train for the rookie quarterback. Thursday was the first we saw of Murray in NFL action and it was exciting.
Murray went 6-of-7 passing, totaling 44 yards through the air. The rookie played in just one series, although it did begin at the two-yard line. Fellow rookie, KeeSean Johnson, accounted for the only incompletion after the receiver stepped out of bound before making the catch. Murray looked very good in his first game action. He was quick with his decision making and looked the part of a leader on offense. However, take preseason action with a grain of salt. Most teams keep the defense quite vanilla. Expect more playing time for Murray in game two, somewhere along the lines of two or three series.
Offensive Line Woes
The offensive line will get Murray hurt. This is more post traumatic stress than overreaction. Against a relatively tame Chargers defense, the Cardinals offensive line struggle. The offensive line was unable to establish a ground game. At times the line looked overwhelmed at the point of attack. There were at least two occasions where Murray faced heavy pressure. The first time it happened, Murry sprinted to his left and fired a rocket to Johnson along the sideline. On the second instance of pressure, both defensive ends got into the backfield as Murray hit the top of his drop. The convergence of Chargers tripped up the rookie as he attempted to step up and flush out to his left.
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Protection issues only got worse as the night went on. Once the first team unit left the field, the Chargers pass rush routinely collapsed the pocket. Perhaps the weakest group along the offensive line were the tackles. D.J. Humphries and Marcus Gilbert struggled with speed around the end. On the Murray sack, both tackles were a half-second late out of the stance and were left desperately reaching. It never got better. Training camp and preseason is where the lines can finally get time together to work on communication and chemistry. However, seeing a unit struggling this significantly, is something that can easily carry over to the regular season. Game two will go a long way to confirm the concerns or prove the worries premature.
Were it not for an individual moment of brilliance by Jordan Hicks, the Cardinals first team defense would have surrendered a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. Hicks stuffed Chargers running back Austin Eckler just short of the goal-line and ripped the football loose. The fumble was quickly recovered as Hicks fell on the ball. Prior to the turnover the Chargers offense, sans starting quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Melvin Gordon, drove down the field with little resistance. Ironically, it was the linebacking unit which struggled the most. The unit was often out of position on ground game and lost in zone coverage.
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Part of the defensive struggles came in the form of over pursuit. On the bulk of runs resulting in more than ten yards, the running back found large cut-back lanes, with a Cardinals linebacker attempting to pivot back inside. Arizona’s defensive line was able to penetrate both against the run and pass. However, the penetration came with failure to set the edge or maintain containment. As a result, the Chargers quarterbacks were typically able to step up in the pocket and get throws off. In the run game, the lack of an edge allowed runs around the end with relative ease. The loss of linebacker Brooks Reed looks like a game-changer. Arizona will need to find a way to settle down the defense if they hope to improve from the 2018 issues.
While it is nice to see football being played again, the preseason is more about evaluating individual player versus team success. More specifically, the games are for evaluating unknown talents and those players fighting for roster spots. With that in mind, the Cardinals had some solid performances and a few rather disappointing one. However, it is just the first game of the preseason with three more weeks to finalize the rosters. The Cardinals welcome the Oakland Raiders to State Farm Stadium on Thursday, August 15th. It’s an ESPN televised game. Hopefully it gets the players to perform at a much higher level.
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